Lansons Conversations

UK General Election 2015: Briefing #9

Welcome to the ninth edition of the Lansons Election Briefing, supported by Opinium.

With less than two weeks until polling day, the outcome of the UK general election 2015 is still far too close to call, however the polls are showing some signs of life following weeks of inactivity. Opinium’s latest polling suggests that Labour have closed the gap to just one point, following a four point Tory lead a week before.

Nonetheless most pollsters, who are tracking the issue, point to around a 10 to 15 seat lead for the Conservative Party in the Commons, although of course still way short of a majority.

Despite this the Tories may find it hard to find any partner for a workable coalition, as the Lib Dems and UKIP vote continues to slide. For his part, Nick Clegg has said that his party won’t work with Labour if it is the second largest party in Parliament, declaring that it is the right of the largest party to govern.

It is against this now familiar pre-text that Ed Miliband looked to steal a march upon his Tory rivals over the weekend, as he announced further details of Labour’s housing policy. In a speech on Sunday, the Labour leader declared that the party would cap rent at inflation, whilst on Monday morning it was revealed that the party would scrap stamp duty for homes under £300,000 for first time buyers.

The first of those policies came under considerable scrutiny with many observers pointing to comments made by Labour’s shadow Housing Minister, Emma Reynolds, who said only last month that the party would not impose rent controls.

Nonetheless, the tactic may be a shrewd one by Ed Miliband. Whilst the Conservatives remain stubbornly committed to their Lyton Crosby branded attack politics of “competence versus chaos”, Labour has taken a different approach. The party clearly believes that talk of Scotland and the abstract rhetoric of rising GDP and falling deficits is not what makes ordinary people take notice. It is issues such as the ability to afford a home, be it rented or bought, that the party believe really matters.

The Conservatives have pressed ahead with their economic message regardless this morning. Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph splashed with the announcement that 5,000 small businesses have backed the party, stating that it should be “given the chance to finish what they started”. The Conservatives will use this entire week to build further on this message, launching the party’s Small Business manifesto today with a promise to help create 600,000 new firms each year by 2020. The question is, does the electorate care?

Party focus – Labour

Ed Miliband has spent the last five years distancing himself from the last Labour Government. Although he was part of Gordon Brown’s senior Treasury team and subsequently a Cabinet Minister, the ploy seems to have had some success.

The party was desperately unpopular at the time of the last election, and the fact that the Labour leadership, refreshed with dynamic new faces such as Chuka Umunna, has been able to pull level with their Tory rivals for the majority of the last Parliament is, in some part, a testament to this.

Nonetheless, the party has challenges. Miliband has historically been an electoral liability for the party, who continues to poll lower than Labour as a whole, and currently has a -13 per cent approval rating according to Opinium.

Nonetheless, his Happy Warrior strategy may be slowing turning around his image, as the recent #milifandom phenomena suggests.

Labour is extremely vocal about its championing of working people and polices such as the abolition of the non-dom status, caps on energy bills and rental income as well as the introduction of a mansion tax are a demonstration of its priorities.

Miliband’s leadership has rejected New Labour’s potent mix of state support matched with the promise of aspiration and social mobility and has moved the party further back to the left. What remains to be seen however is if that is what the public seek.